The “Foundation” of modern science fiction
The early modern science fiction adventures written by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells pre–dated his by several decades, but it was Isaac Asimov whom the “Star Trek” generation of the 1960s thought of as being the “father” of modern hard sci–fi.
Only Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein approached Asimov’s popularity and critical acclaim. He wrote, co–wrote or edited more than 500 books, mostly science or science–fiction, but also wrote about his myriad other interests as well. When Isaac was hired to write the novelization of the 1966 movie “Fantastic Voyage,” written by Harry Kleiner, Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby, in which a medical crew (including Raquel Welch) is miniaturized along with their “spaceship” in order to navigate through the bloodstream of a comatose victim of an assassination attempt, in an attempt to repair his brain, it became cited not only as the film that turned on multitudes of kids to science fiction, but became mistakenly attributed to Asimov as his own creation. Even more so than Kubrick & Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” released a year and a half later. Asimov and Clarke’s amiable “competition” resulted in the “Clarke–Asimov Treaty of Park Avenue,” agreed to while sharing a Manhattan cab ride. The treaty required that both men publically insist the other was the world’s greatest science fiction writer, while declaring himself “second best.”
Asimov’s science fiction career was divided into two periods in his life.
He began writing short stories in 1939 and novels in 1950, continuing writing both until 1958. He then all but ended his sci-fi output to concentrate on writing non–fiction popular science to promote general scientific literacy. This first period of science fiction writing was marked by his “Robot Stories” that explored the future ramifications of ever–escalating “artificial intelligence” and the question of whether humans might one day be enslaved by robots. Asimov refuted this ever happening with his famous “Three Laws of Robotics.”
Asimov’s three laws of robotics
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
Obviously, the robots in the later “Terminator” movies flunked this course in their “a.i.” educations.
In 1941, Asimov wrote “Nightfall,” which has been declared the greatest science fiction short story ever written.
In October of 1957, the Russians launched their Sputnik satellite into Earth’s orbit and the space race was on. Worried about a “science gap” between America’s youth and their counterparts in Russia, Asimov patriotically spent the next two decades writing mostly popular science books to educate the general public and only four sci-fi novels.
Asimov resumed his massive science fiction output in the 1980s, which included what will no doubt be regarded as his greatest achievement, the completion of his “Foundation” series of novels, begun in 1951—53, which envisions the collapse and rebirth of a vast interstellar empire.
Having suffered a heart attack in in 1977, Asimov had triple–bypass heart surgery in December 1983. Ten years after his death in 1992, his widow allowed a biographer to reveal that his fatal renal failure was precipitated by his having received, during his bypass surgery, a transfusion of blood contaminated with the AIDS virus. Isaac Asimov would have been 95 years old sometime between last October 04 and January 02, 2015. (Record keeping was a bit sloppy in the chaotic first years of the new Bolshevik regime in Russia in 1919—20.) It is fitting that the entire holiday season is needed to encompass the birth of modern science fiction’s most prolific and iconic founding father, Isaac Asimov.
- Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein were the Big 3 in science fiction for readers in the 1960s & 70s. If you are a teen or 20—something deviant, who are the Big 3 in science fiction today?
- Have fantasy writers like Tolkien, Rowling and Suzanne Collins totally eclipsed science fiction writers in popularity today?
- Did the “Star Wars” or “Terminator” movies prompt you or your friends to read the sci fi spin–off novels, or were the movies stand alone attractions for you?
- Have all the Marvel and DC Superhero movies being released in recent years prompted you and your friends to read sci fi novels or just more comic books?
- If you’ve read Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein, which do you believe is the best writer and how do their stories differ from each other?